A San Francisco-based tech business leader says Africa has the potential to create a new wave of global software entrepreneurs, writes MATTHEW LE CORDEUR.
Meltwater founder and CEO Jørn Lyseggen told Fin24 in a News24Live interview that software and Africa are going to be a very interesting combination in the future.
“Africa will play a very incredible role in future politics on the global scene,” he said. “As a continent, I think it has a lot of potential.”
He said the economic centre of gravity will need to take into account the large population in Africa as 50% of productive people between the ages 18 and 60 will be in Africa by 2040. “That is an incredible fact,” he said.
In 2008, Lyseggen launched the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (Mest) and the Mest Incubator programme in Ghana, which provides training, investment and mentoring for aspiring technology entrepreneurs. His goal is to create globally successful companies that create wealth and jobs locally in Africa.
Training software entrepreneurs for Africa
“Initially my passion in Africa was purely philanthropic, so we wanted to create a school for software entrepreneurs and help talent,” he said. “Coming to Africa, I realised the incredible potential this continent has.
“Software is an industry where you require very limited upfront investment and all you need is a computer for a few hundred bucks,” he explained. “Software can be written anywhere. All you need is talent, drive, imagination.
“I have been to Africa more than 50 times since 2007 and I see so much talent and I see so many driven people and there is no question in my mind that all the up-and-coming youth in Africa are going to make a big impact also in the software space.”
Sourced from top graduates in Ghana and Nigeria, 30 of the Entrepreneurs-In-Training are selected each year to attend at Mest and receive comprehensive training across the spectrum of skills required to build successful tech businesses, including computer programming, software development, product management, finance, marketing, sales and leadership best practices.
Lyseggen said entrepreneurship is very hard. “It’s very taxing. For many it means you go from hand-to-mouth and you make very little money for many years,” he said.
“For some other people they will start out successfully. If you want to go into entrepreneurship, I think it’s a very good thing and I encourage everyone to do it, … but you need to embrace that it is not going to be a picnic.”
The perfect employee
When recruiting employees to work at Meltwater, Lyseggen said he looks for inspiring people who are ambitious, talented, driven and capable. “But also positive people who are fun to hang around and also have a good heart, good values and good integrity,” he said.
People who have managed to break through at an early age are key to this type of employee. “We have people who are classically trained pianists… [and] others who are exceptional in sport,” he said.
“So, we have national or international champions in swimming, cycling, running, skiing [and] we have three Olympians in the company, we have a world champion fly fisher in the company.
“One time I hired a Chinese girl who was number three in the world in Street Fighter 2 – the game. We believe it says something about who you are. Whatever you put your mind to, you will probably be very successful.”
Africa phones go flat
Africa’s mobile phone market declined 2.1% quarter on quarter in Q3 2018 according to the latest figures from IDC.
The global technology research and consulting firm newly released Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker shows overall shipments for the quarter totalled 52.6 million units, with feature phone shipments falling 2.7% QoQ and smartphone shipments declining 1.3% over the same period.
Transsion brands (Tecno, Infinix, and Itel) led the feature phone space in Q3 2018, with a combined unit share of 58.2%. Nokia was next in line with 11.7% share. Transsion, Samsung, and Huawei dominated the smartphone space with respective unit shares of 34.9%, 21.7%, and 10.2%. However, in value terms, Samsung led the smartphone market with 37.2% share, followed by Transsion (21.0%) and Huawei (13.0%).
There were differing fortunes in the region’s three major markets, with Nigeria suffering a heavy 11.6% QoQ decline in mobile phone shipments, while South Africa and Kenya saw respective QoQ growth of 8.5% and 7.9% in Q3 2018.
“The decline in Nigeria stemmed from a slowdown in government spending, ongoing warfare in the country’s northern states, and market uncertainty in the lead up to elections,” says George Mbuthia, a research analyst at IDC. “In South Africa, the market’s growth was spurred by the penetration of low-end devices from brands such as Mobicel, Mint, and Nokia, while the launch of entry-level smartphones helped drive growth in Kenya despite increases in taxes and fuel prices placing a significant burden on disposable income in the country.”
While feature phones remain steadfastly popular across Africa, particularly in more rural areas, consumers are increasingly being attracted by smartphone offerings from Chinese brands such as Xiaomi, Oppo, and Huawei, which are actively targeting feature-oriented customers at more economical price points.
“There is a new wave of Chinese brands aggressively pursuing growth opportunities in the region, while the more-established Huawei is also accelerating its marketing efforts and expanding its distribution budget,” says Ramazan Yavuz, a research manager at IDC. “These brands have quickly progressed along the learning curve and evolved their offerings to perfectly reflect the realities of the region by addressing the diverse pricing and feature needs of the consumer base.”
Looking ahead, IDC expects Africa’s overall mobile phone market to reach 58 million units in Q4 2018, spurred by the festive season and online consumer events such as Black Friday. The introduction of more affordable smartphones in the African market will help drive progress in this space over the coming quarters, while the share of feature phones will decline steadily as the transition to smartphones gathers momentum.
Mobile money to cross borders
Orange and MTN launch pan-African mobile money interoperability to scale up mobile financial services across Africa.
Two of Africa’s largest mobile operators and mobile money providers, Orange Group and MTN Group, today announced a joint venture, Mowali (mobile wallet interoperability), to enable interoperable payments across the continent. Mowali makes it possible to send money between mobile money accounts issued by any mobile money provider, in real time and at low cost.
Mowali will immediately benefit from the reach of MTN Mobile Money and Orange Money, bringing together over 100 million mobile money accounts and mobile money operations in 22 of sub-Saharan Africa’s 46 markets. Mowali is ready to enable interoperability between digital financial service providers beyond MTN and Orange operations and markets, to support the existing 338 million mobile money accounts in Africa.
Mowali is a digital payment infrastructure that connects financial service providers and customers in one inclusive network. It functions as an industry utility, open to any mobile money provider in Africa, including banks, money transfer operators and other financial service providers.
The objective of Mowali is to increase the usage of mobile money by consumers and merchants. Mowali enables money to circulate freely between mobile money accounts from any operators in all countries. From the customer’s point of view, this means “I can pay or receive money anywhere from my mobile account regardless of my operator”. The system will unlock further innovation in the digital financial space within the continent.
For Stéphane Richard, Chairman & CEO of Orange, “by providing full interoperability between platforms, Mowali will provide an important step forward that will allow mobile money to become a universal means of payment in Africa. Increasing financial inclusion through the use of digital technology is an essential element in furthering the economic development of Africa, particularly for more isolated communities. This solution embodies Orange’s ambition to be a leading player in the digital transformation of the continent. By joining forces with another of Africa’s market leaders, MTN, we aim to accelerate the pace of this transformation in a way that will change the lives of our customers by providing them with simpler, safer and more advantageous services. “
“One of MTN’s goals is to accelerate the penetration of mobile financial services in Africa, Mowali is one such vehicle that will help us achieve that objective. Furthermore, co-operation and partnerships that help us accelerate the pace of development and overcome some of the scale, scope and complexity of challenges that society faces are key. This partnership with Orange is therefore an important step in helping us play a meaningful role in supporting the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals related to eliminating extreme poverty and enhancing socio-economic development in the markets we operate in and beyond. Thus giving our customers access to a bright, digital future.” said Rob Shuter, Group President and CEO of MTN.
The GSMA supports the Mowali initiative as interoperability at this scale is a key accelerator for both financial inclusion and Mobile Money usability across Africa. “Today, there are over 690 million mobile money accounts around the world. Mobile money services have become an essential, life-changing tool across Africa, providing access to safe and secure financial services but also to energy, health, education and employment opportunities. The creation of Mowali will help to further transform mobile financial services throughout the African region. It demonstrates the mobile industry’s continued leadership and commitment to driving financial inclusion and economic empowerment through industry collaboration. The GSMA is proud to support its development,” said Mats Granryd, Director General, GSMA.
“Interoperability of digital payments has been the toughest hurdle for the financial services industry to overcome, in support of financial inclusion. With Mowali, Orange and MTN deliver a solution that will enable them, and other companies, to scale digital financial services across Africa, faster, to everyone—including the poor,” said Kosta Peric, deputy director of Financial Services for the Poor, at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation “This is a signal that a new wave of innovation, which can help alleviate poverty and drive economic opportunity, is coming. We’re pleased to see an implementation of Mojaloop—an open source payment platform available to operators across the sector—help achieve that.”